Giving your team feedback can be one of the most important things you do as a manager to keep them motivated and on the right track. However, it can be a challenge to know the whens and hows of giving feedback.
Here are some tips to help you get across the motivating messaging and course corrections your team members need to keep them reaching goals and owning the setbacks and successes of the team.
- Strive to maintain the self-esteem of the employee. Feedback is given to help the employee improve, not to tear them down for failing to reach a goal. Feedback is not a punishment, nor is it an opportunity to get things off of your chest. If you have to tell an employee that they are missing the mark, try to be specific, and then try to create a solution to the issue, with input from the employee. “You failed,” isn’t a very useful thing to tell someone; they are generally aware of missing a goal or deadline, already. “I’ve seen that you tend to get overwhelmed as project deadlines get close, and then struggle to get it all done in time. Can we break down the project goals into daily/weekly tasks, so that you can better track your progress?” This approach better outlines the problem, but then offers a way to overcome it, showing that you do believe your team member is capable of the work, while not leaving them floundering to get it figured out on their own.
- Give candid feedback. Most people worry about hurting other people’s feelings. That’s admirable. But if you sandwich negative feedback between positive, the messaging can get confused. Employees need to know what they did correctly or incorrectly, and why.
- Do not stockpile feedback. Do you expect your employees to complete their projects only once a year? Then don’t only provide them with performance feedback once every six to twelve months. Give feedback as soon as possible after a success occurs or the need for course correction is identified. This ties the feedback directly to behavior you are wanting to praise or correct. Giving praise to an employee right after they came up with a creative solution for a customer complaint has a lot more impact than telling them eight months down the road. Waiting months to course correct a team member sets them up to have gone so far off track that they may not be able to complete a project on time, or at all.
- Don’t give negative feedback in front of other employees. Save it for one-on-one discussions. None of us really likes to be criticized. And having that criticism called out in front of other team members can be embarrassing, and detrimental to the employee’s self esteem (see Tip 1, above). Further, giving negative feedback in front of others can easily damage the group dynamic of your team, making it more difficult for them to work together as a cohesive unit.
- Be very, very careful about giving group feedback. Celebrating a win with your team is a great thing, and reinforces strong team relationships. However, giving specific feedback in a team situation can be dicey. Singling out one person for praise can create resentment or jealousies within the team. If there was an above-and-beyond contribution that the whole team can recognize – “Suzie came in on Saturday, her day off, to sort through the files the client dropped off after hours on Friday, so that we could all hit the ground running Monday morning.” – is not likely to be a problem. Something less specific – “Joey worked really hard on this one” – could leave other employees wondering why Joey gets the shout out, when they worked really hard, too.
- Some managers try to avoid having to have difficult conversations with individuals by giving negative feedback to the group as a whole; this tends to not have the desired effect. “I’ve seen that some people are leaving early on Fridays. You know that is against company policy.” Your conscientious team members are likely to spend time wracking their brains to see if they have ever left their desk accidentally at 4:58 instead of 5:00pm, and wondering just how much trouble they are in, while the employee who regularly clocks out at 3:30 is just as likely to assume that you didn’t mean him.
- Feedback is not about forms. Forms can be useful to document feedback after the fact, but your conversations with your team members should be kept natural. Forms tend be very structured, often evaluating performance in quantitative terms, but that doesn’t generally translate well when actually giving that feedback to your team member: “You got four out five when it comes to customer communication.” That doesn’t actually tell the employee anything useful. “You are really responsive when customers reach out to you with issues, and are very good at keeping them in the loop as we work on those issues. Sometimes, though, you use a bit too much technical jargon, leaving some of them not really sure what you are explaining.” This lets the employee know exactly where they need improvement, not just that they are pretty good, overall.
- A raise is not feedback. Do not assume that giving your team members a raise is the same as giving them feedback. Feedback is a conversation about how your employees can grow and develop. A pay raise is about the economy, and does nothing to develop your team members.
- Don’t be afraid to get feedback on your feedback. Different team members will hear feedback differently. You will need to check in with them to make sure they are getting the message you want them to hear. Some employees take course corrections as devastating criticisms, even when they are minor issues, while other employees tend to think everything is okay, as long as they aren’t actually getting fired. Ask your employees what they heard from your discussions, as well as how you could have delivered the message more clearly, especially if you think the message has gotten lost somewhere.
Don’t assume that your team members know “all is good.” Even your most efficient and conscientious employee needs feedback. Everyone has doubts about their abilities and performance, as well as blind spots about where they could do better. It is your job as their manager to be their cheerleader, as well as their coach. Your feedback keeps them motivated, lets them know they are appreciated, and gives them direction towards reaching “the next level.”